International Education: Disruption and renewal

Australia’s international education sector has been heavily exposed to the shock of COVID-19. Closure of national borders and the subsequent loss of international students has hit many universities hard, as well local communities and economic sectors that service them.

There is no escaping the economic and social implications of this crisis. It is estimated that the international education sector alone could lose $16 billion by 2023, along with 21,000 jobs, including 7,000 research-related academic positions. In Melbourne, there are approximately 60,000 international students still here, many of whom are isolated and may look to return home. Furthermore, the international student sector impacts the wider economy in areas like retail, tourism, hospitality and accommodation. The return of students and their visiting families is vital to our economic viability.

Committee for Melbourne hosted a forum on 23 July to unpack the extent of the challenges facing the international education sector. Professor Richard Speed (La Trobe University), Professor Michael Wesley (University of Melbourne), Bronte Neyland (Victoria University) and Councillor Philip Le Liu (City of Melbourne), offered their thoughts on the state of international education in Victoria as it responds to the crisis. All speakers agreed that the crisis has provided an opportunity to reflect on the international education sector, including what we do well and what could be improved.

While many challenges must be addressed, a priority will be the need for a unified, welcoming message from Australia’s leaders that all international students – current and prospective – are welcome here and that they will be safe.

Australia must continue to present itself as an open and friendly country that values the contribution that international students make to our society and implement measures to help ensure their safety. These students want to learn about Melbourne and to share their experiences with friends and family upon returning to their home countries. It is vital that the messages they take back are positive and reflect well on Melbourne and Australia.

In addition, key to a strong recovery is the need for a collaborative response from multiple stakeholders. This crisis cannot be left to the universities alone. It requires a national response, with input from governments, the private sector and the community. Only through the efforts of everyone can we ensure that Melbourne remains a globally-significant student city following the crisis and Australia remains a desirable destination for international students. Of particular importance will be encouraging more private sector organisations to offer work experience and job opportunities to international students, which would enhance Australia’s global reputation as a well-rounded learning destination.

The forum represented the beginning of the discussion about the international student sector. The Committee has established and International Student Action Group made of key representatives from our university members and broader community to determine priority initiatives on the road to recovery.

If you were unable to watch the forum on the day, you may view the replay below. For a snapshot regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the international education sector, you may view our policy paper here. Committee for Melbourne extends its thanks to the expert speakers for their insights. For more information about the Committee’s International Student Action Group or our Future Skills Taskforce, please contact Brett van Duppen, Policy and Research Officer at bvanduppen@melbourne.org.au


You can watch the event here

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